Psst, Opting For Liquid Exfoliants May Save Your Skin. Here's Why
Exfoliation is a key step in any skincare routine. Exfoliants have been known to provide you with a brighter, smoother, clearer, and more even complexion. So many incredible benefits, what could possibly be wrong with them? Well, technically, if you’re opting for the right type of exfoliator, there isn’t anything wrong with them! But how do you know if incorporating liquid exfoliants into your routine is right for you?
- Liquid exfoliants are a type of chemical exfoliator, and they are far better for the skin than physical exfoliants such as scrubs.
- Liquid exfoliants are preferred for sensitive skin because they don’t physically slough away at the skin’s layers causing increased sensitivity. In fact, opting for a liquid exfoliant over a scrub will help preserve the skin by decreasing the chances of premature aging
- Typically liquid exfoliators are used directly after washing the skin and before moisturizing. They are made up of exfoliating acids or combinations of exfoliating acids
Liquid Exfoliants vs. Scrubs
There are two main categories of exfoliation: chemical and physical. Physical scrubs are what people typically associate with the word exfoliate. For years, brands have put out products such as apricot, oatmeal, and walnut facial scrubs with the message that massaging these microbeads into your skin every day will leave you with a smoother and brighter complexion.
Unfortunately, these claims are, for the most part, false. Physical exfoliants such as scrubs contain tiny microbeads that are typically made of plastic and other chemicals. These microbeads are far too abrasive for the skin’s natural moisture barrier, and combining the beads with a scrubbing motion every single day will only wear away at your skin.
The act of scrubbing actually produces microscopic tears on the skin's surface allowing for oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells to penetrate to the deeper layers causing more breakouts, scarring, and premature aging.
Not only do these physical scrubs do more harm than good for your face, but they are also harmful to the environment. The plastic microbeads are typically not decomposable and are instead dumped in landfills and even oceans, posing danger to marine life and biomes.
Are liquid exfoliants good for sensitive skin?
Liquid exfoliants are in fact the safer of the two options. Physical exfoliators like scrubs “smooth” the skin by literally sloughing off the superficial layer, they are not ideal for sensitive skin because they cause so much disruption and abrasion.
Oftentimes people with sensitive skin are afraid of exfoliation as a whole and shy away from the idea. But the truth is, exfoliation should be an essential part of anyone’s routine. Opting for a liquid exfoliant will save your skin the damage and provide you with the benefits that you’re searching for in a scrub.
It all has to do with which liquid exfoliant you choose. Like everything in skincare, not every product is created equal. There are some chemical exfoliants that are stronger than others percentage-wise and there are some that are stronger based on which types of exfoliating acids they contain.
If you have sensitive skin, opting for a lower percentage and more gentle acid can help to ensure that you don’t damage your skin’s barrier along the way. Oftentimes people dive into chemical exfoliants head first using the strongest product available, thinking this will accelerate the process and produce benefits quicker. It’s almost the opposite.
Using too strong of products or using a product too often will only further damage the skin and delay results, leaving some people to believe that the product itself is responsible for making their skin worse.
Patience and consistency are key when it comes to healing your skin, and of course, if you have a bad reaction to a product, stop using it immediately. If the reaction does not subside on its own within a few days, contact your dermatologist. The product may be too strong for you, you may be using it too much, or your skin may just not respond well to certain ingredients.
Do they preserve the skin?
Liquid or chemical exfoliants do in a way preserve the skin. Because they are less physically abrasive to the skin’s epidermis, there is a smaller chance of premature aging. Things like premature wrinkles, scarring, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation are all lessened when making the switch from physical exfoliants to liquid or chemical exfoliants. Opting for a chemical exfoliator will most definitely benefit your skin in the long run.
Dermatologists often say that physical exfoliants are immediate satisfaction with no long-term results. Sure, sloughing away at the uneven layers of skin will give the look and feel of a smoother complexion. But, scrubs do not penetrate into the deeper layers where the root of the texture is. Therefore, physical exfoliation provides no real long-term benefit.
On the other hand, chemical or liquid exfoliants don’t always provide immediate results, but they are far more beneficial in the long run. You won’t necessarily get the look and feel of smoother skin from the use of a liquid exfoliant right away, but over time those acids will go to work deeper in the skin, cleaning out your pores and leaving you with a more lasting result.
How to use them
Using a chemical exfoliator is a tricky topic to cover because it truly is so specific to each individual and their needs. Learning your skin’s sensitivity level will help you to determine how often you need to be using a liquid exfoliant. If your skin is sensitive, I would suggest starting out with just 1-2 days a week using a chemical exfoliator. If your skin does not fall under the sensitive category, using an exfoliator 3-4 times a week should be okay, but always start out low and build up your tolerance.
Chemical exfoliants typically come in the form of a liquid and are extremely easy to apply. Most liquid exfoliators are designed to be applied to clean, dry skin, so it is best to incorporate them into your routine right after you’ve washed and dried your face.
These liquid exfoliants can be applied with a reusable cotton pad or even just your hands using pressing or patting motions. If you are more sensitive, it may help to start off by only applying the exfoliator in the areas of the face you struggle the most with. For most people, these problem areas are typically the t-zone.
Ingredients for liquid exfoliants
Nowadays, there are so many brands, strengths, and types of liquid exfoliants. Most liquid exfoliants contain the more popular exfoliating acids such as:
- Salicylic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Mandelic acid
Each chemical acid has a different molecular weight which determines how deep the product is able to penetrate the skin. Typically, deeper penetration allows for more thorough exfoliation, but if you are on the more sensitive side, using a deeper-penetrating acid may cause more harm and increase sensitivity. It’s important to choose an exfoliator based on your skin type and your skin’s specific needs.
Exfoliation can be an intimidating subject when it comes to skincare. But, so many people see such amazing benefits after incorporating an exfoliator into their routine. However, learn your skin’s needs and do your research before shopping for one.
Written by Jordan Hammaren
- Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash